Empathy is at the top of the list of qualities we want our children to have. But it’s also one of the hardest qualities to teach, especially for preschoolers. Preschool-aged children are notorious for being self-focused. On top of that, they also have difficulty regulating their emotions which makes empathic behavior difficult. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible though! There are simple and practical ways to encourage empathy towards others.
Here are a few tips to help you encourage your preschooler to develop empathy towards others:
A great first step to encouraging empathy is to ask lots of questions. Help your child get curious about emotions, and particularly others’ emotions. Help them to recognize their own emotions, and how others may be feeling the same. An example would be, “It seemed like you were really sad earlier when your friend took your toy. How do you think they feel when you take away their toy?” Or “Your friend seems sad, what do you think would make them feel better? What makes you feel better when you’re sad?”
These questions help children become more aware of their emotions and also connect the fact that their friends have similar emotions. Connecting their feelings to a friend’s feelings helps them foster understanding and empathy. Usually helpful behaviors follow once the connection is made.
As with anything you want to teach a preschooler, modeling is the best way. They will pick up on what they see you doing. Are you intentionally modeling empathy towards them? How so? It’s important to stop, acknowledge their feelings, and connect with them in the moment. Be present with them in their emotion. This is the heart of empathy. If they learn from you that this is the appropriate response to emotion, they will be much more likely to show empathy towards others.
On the flip side, if you are dismissive or harsh in response to your child’s emotion, it will work against their development of empathy. Care for their emotions and they will learn to care for others.
Choose The Right Resources
Fortunately, many kids’ programs have caught on to the importance of teaching kindness and empathy. There are great resources available in the form of books, tv shows, movies, and songs that can help you discuss empathy with your child.
Screen it first yourself, and then participate with your child. After reading or viewing something together, make sure to follow up with reflection questions afterward. “What do you think that boy felt when he got picked on? How do you think they could’ve treated him differently?” Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their thoughts, feelings, and observations. It may surprise you how much they pick up on!
A great follow-up to the last tip is to encourage self-reflection after emotional events. Ask your kids what made them upset and why? After they have done something that wasn’t nice to a friend or sibling, ask them how they could make it right.
The typical go-to after we see our child do something hurtful to another person is to say, “go say you’re sorry!” But this response doesn’t encourage authentic empathy because it isn’t something they are choosing on their own. Rather it’s something they’re being told to do as a punishment. You don’t want your child to do the right thing simply because “they have to” but because they understand the effects of their behavior and want to make amends.
Care for an Animal
Lastly, a great way to encourage and inspire empathy is to care for an animal. Helping your child take more responsibility in caring for your pet is a great way to showcase a need they can fulfill. Caring for an animal also takes patience, dedication, gentleness, and mindfulness. These are all qualities that are associated with empathy and will generalize to other relationships in their life.
We hope that you try one of these tips to encourage empathy towards others! At the Connection Point Early Learning Center, we want to encourage our preschoolers to develop empathy towards others. We utilize these tips, as well as incorporate them into our curriculum. Our goal is to intentionally model empathy in all interactions as well.
Follow our blog for more tips for your preschooler!